Ever have one of those races (or even seasons of life) where it takes stepping back months after to fully reflect on it, learn from it, and fully appreciate the experience? The XTERRA World Championships this past November 1st in Maui was such a race to me. Up until this point, I had been living an unexpected dream-come-true season, winning both the XTERRA Mountain Regional Champion award and my age group at the XTERRA National Championship at Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, Utah. My goals were high for Worlds even though I was a first timer on the course. Moving to Colorado from Georgia last fall, Dave and I were new to the off-road triathlon scene in the Rockies but felt that if we could hold our own with the competition out here, the World stage couldn't be too much tougher. Racing XTERRA Lory in June helped me realize that I could hold my own against Colorado off-road triathletes (honestly, I have been so intimidated by the caliber of athletes out here -at every race, either a pro, former pro, Olympian, or former cover athlete from Competitor, Trailrunner or Triathlete magazine seems to be toeing the line as well. They can definitely put the ego in check!). At each race we participated in over the summer, however, we met some of the most incredibly fun, encouraging people while getting to play tourist and explore such breathtakingly beautiful land and trails. When I qualified for XTERRA Worlds in Maui at the Mountain Championships in Beaver Creek, I remember looking at my husband and asking "so, do you want to go on a family vacation to Maui this year?" Of course, my oldest daughter overheard us and started jumping up and down, begging to go. For some reason, all of our vacations seem to involve races. Imagine that!
After the race at Beaver Creek, I asked Josiah Middaugh and his brother Yaro to coach me, figuring that it was time to start getting in the pool more than once every other week and stop playing photographer taking pictures along the trail during my bike rides and runs. Yaro put together a great program to prepare me for Nationals and Worlds, balancing challenging, structured workouts, with recovery and family time. I felt that going into the race, the body was strong and ready to tackle the challenging island course, however, as we have learned over the years, we can't always control everything leading up to the race... especially when travelling with children.
**Shout out to Josiah for winning the XTERRA World Championship this year. Truly an amazing athlete, mentor, father, and now friend.**
Our flight to Maui had a layover in Seattle for a few hours. We explored the airport on foot, trying to get pent up energy out of the girls, especially my Angel, who can be a wiggle worm and doesn't understand why she can't do whatever she wants when she wants. The movement helped keep her settled for the next 2 hours of sitting on the plane bound for Hawaii, but after that, she was done. She turned herself upside down with feet on the window, kicked the seat in front of her (lucky for us, no one was occupying it and we actually knew the couple in the ajoining seats who were headed out to the race from Georgia- bless their sweet hearts for experiencing our crazy life first hand and still remaining friends after), and was ready to be done with flying.
When we arrived at the resort, it was dark outside so we couldn't see much, but we could hear the roar of the ocean waves and took in the sticky humid air. We squeezed into our non-airconditioned room, our Angel in a tent bed next to ours that we use when travelling with her, and the rest of us sharing a king size bed... and no air conditioning. Needless to say, we didn't sleep much the first night. At daybreak, we cooked up some oatmeal, then headed to the beach for our initial view of the waves. They were rolling in quickly, pounding the shore with reported swells of 20 feet. Months and months of preparation and I was about to have a panic attack just standing on the beach.
After leaving the beach, we headed up the road to the host resort, the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, to get checked in and do a practice swim at the race site, DT Fleming Beach. If my heart wasn't racing enough from watching the waves, standing in line with people speaking multiple foreign languages can cause a bit of anxiety. 43 countries were represented at this year's race -more countries than those that participated at the Olympic Games in triathlon. Yaro sent me a text asking how things were going. My reply: "I'm feeling so small." His response calmed me a bit and made me laugh. He told me "Just remember everyone is going through similar feelings. You're trained and ready. Don't feel small... unless it helps you climb faster!"
The first practice swim was as tough as I thought it would be. Although I didn't panic, I literally could not swim past the first set of breakers. After about 10 min of flailing arms and going nowhere, I headed back to shore and told Dave that I was done. If I couldn't get past the shore break, how in the world would I have even make it to the bike leg of the race. Dave thought he could teach me a thing or two (bless his heart, he had good intentions) and took off into the waves to show me how to swim. It was like watching a swimmer on a treadmill - a whole lot of work, but going nowhere. Maybe there was a reason no one else was attempting to practice swim at Fleming Beach and red warning flags were posted by the lifeguard stand. We were officially done for the day and ready to head to Lahaina for mahi mahi tacos (I am pretty sure I had them at every place we went to eat over the trip. They were sooo good!) and to introduce our girls to Hawaiian shaved ice -which the girls discovered is like the lightest, fluffiest Colorado snow covered in sweet flavored goodness.
Day 2 faired much better than Day 1. Josiah had strongly encouraged his athletes if we had the opportunity to get a massage from Todd Plymale-Mallory, a Boulder, Colorado based massage therapist and acupuncturist. Todd had come over to the islands to first work on athletes racing on the Big Island for Ironman Worlds, then hopped over to Maui to fine tune the XTERRA triathletes. My overtight psoas was again holding a slight contraction from sitting during travel for so long, causing my glutes to not fire and hamstrings to wail trying to do the job for both muscle groups. Not to mention the negative affects of pre-race stress, dealing with a kiddo who was out of her normal environment and not having a bowel movement in days (another not so fun aspect of Angelman Syndrome), and the fear that my period which had been off schedule for the past few months would start on race day (maybe a little TMI here, but ahh, the lucky bonus to life we "perimenopausal" women live with). Todd worked his painfully good magic on my hip as well as my opposing shoulder, but really it was a simple thought he shared that put it all back into perspective for me. I wish I could remember the exact words, but I think I was a bit distracted about his fascia tearing strategies at the moment.
He reminded me that so many of (us) athletes get so wrapped up in the race and it affects us in a negative way, where ultimately, it is supposed to be something that adds to life, not becomes life. In the grande scheme of things, how important are the results of that day? With those words, all the anxiety, the tight bloated indigestion feeling in my stomach, and the tension in my neck and hip let go. I went from dreading my pre-race anxious feelings, to embracing and looking forward to the race.
Swim attempts on Day 2 went better than on Day 1 and although I didn't make it much further than the breakers, I had fun running into the waves with Hailey and playing while practicing starts and exits. We laughed and laughed. Also, I biked the first 5 and final 5 miles of the bike course, all of which was totally ride-able and the climbing segments were steep, but short compared to my Manor House hill repeats back in Colorado. I was nervous of the unknown since I didn't get to preview the entire course, but listened to and took mental notes when Josiah and Emma Garrard spoke at the XTERRA University session, giving their own play by play of the bike course. I rode at a snail's pace (no pun intended) and ran through my gears to make sure my little Specialized Fate 29'r was ready to go. It was so beautiful I wanted to ride longer, although late in the afternoon the sun played tricks with my eyes as it filtered through the jungle of trees the trail weaved through. I didn't notice the heat and humidity and the afternoon breeze was delightful. (and selfishly, it was so nice to be surrounded by the sites and sounds of nature rather than a fussy Angel for an hour.) -and on another celebratory note, Hayden pooped and my period started. Whew- hopefully now we could just focus on the impending race and vacation time.
I got to meet up with Lesley Paterson's Braveheart team and practiced more swim entries and exits with them Friday morning -a Braveheart Games reunion of sorts from training camp last winter. These guys and gals have become great friends over the past year. I felt like the mom (or maybe to not feel quite so old, the "older sister") of the other Braveheart Colorado girls, Liz Gruber and Jordan Cooper, but loved getting to know them better during the trip. That evening, I was so lucky to get to sit with Charlotte Mahan and her husband Kevin at the Night of Champions dinner. Charlotte is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. I wish we had had more time together so I could pick her brain not only about her 1st Ironman which she completed just weeks before Maui (did I mention that she is in the 70-74 age group???) but also the stories of her adventurous life. Hopefully one day she and I will sit down long enough to share a long, fun chat.
The day before the race I went for a 30 min easy run with some strides to wake up the legs before the heat kicked in, searched for sea turtles on the beach with the girls, then tried to stay out of the sun for much of the rest of the day. Waves of mom guilt ran through me as I sat in the room resting and reading to pass the afternoon while Dave played with the girls at the beach and in the pool. 'Only one more day then you will be 100% mom again' I kept telling myself... 'but it is vacation and we are in Hawaii' my inner voice answered back. The struggle is so hard for us moms (not that dads don't feel it, but I think the nurturing nature of being a mom tugs at the heart strings) In not your normal (but quite normal in our juggling race, family time and vacation) pre-race fashion, the night before the race, which happened to be Halloween, we went trick or treating with the girls. We met up with our neighbors (literally, they live in our neighborhood in Littleton and have a son who is in Hailey's 4th grade class), the Schuth family, at The Cannery, a Lahaina mall, to trick or treat around the mall shops with them. I can honestly say, our girls were the only hula dancers there (guess its not much of a costume for local children). When we returned to our room, Hailey could hear kids running around out in the courtyard and took off to investigate. Hailey ended up with round #2 of getting candy with the Middaugh kids (Josiah was dropping candy under the path lights and the kids would race to get them) and their friends, the Wirth's. I could hear Yaro's words of "stay off your feet and get some rest" repeating in my head, but considering Josiah was the organizer of these shenanigans, I figured hanging out for a bit longer wouldn't hurt my race much. Besides, who sleeps -especially kids on sugar highs in non-airconditioned rooms where we were sleeping 3 across in one bed- the night before a race...
(stay tuned for Part II of XTERRA World Championships... "The Race")